Guest blog by Becky Gleason, Children’s Minister at St. Michael’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, Carlsbad CA

When we walk through the front gate of Vida Joven, we know the children will be ready with a smile and a hug. And then it’s time for fun! The kids know that visitors from San Diego might not share their language, but they don’t let that stop them. The children grab a hand and lead their new friend to wherever it is they have in mind. We play hopscotch and Uno, sing songs and dance, and enjoy countless games of tag, just to name a few.

Since April 2016, twenty-four St. Michael’s parishioners, including four children, have made the journey across the border to spend time at Vida Joven. Sometimes we bring an activity to share. We’ve made jewelry, taken Polaroids, and decorated cookies. No matter what we do, we always enjoy our time together. Through the games, crafts, and activities, new and deepening relationships form each time we visit.

Although each child’s story is different, what they all have in common is an experience of great loss and abandonment. The Vida Joven children have been told, sometimes quite literally, that they are not wanted by the parents who were supposed to care for them. While visiting the kids for a few hours will not change that reality, it does allow them to experience acceptance in other positive ways. As we are reminded before we reach the orphanage, our only job is to show love to each child. It has been a blessing to see St. Michael’s folks consistently “show up” to reach out in love toward these children and teens who’ve endured incomprehensible hardships in their young lives.

It is often in the simplest actions that we tell a child that they matter: calling them by name, holding their hand, playing their favorite game. Even with a language barrier, we can show children that they are important and loved by God the Father who will never abandon them. During each visit, our hearts are filled. We experience true community as the Vida Joven children open their doors to strangers and foreigners. Strangers become friends, and that peculiar group – despite different ages, languages, and cultures – is transformed into one family in Christ.